King County pushes back report on for-hire driver trafficking training

The report was originally due in October but has been extended until next spring.

A report from the King County Executive’s office on how to implement a training program to help for-hire drivers recognize signs of human trafficking will likely be pushed back to April 2020.

The report is part of a countywide effort to combat human trafficking and was discussed at an Aug. 27 county Government Accountability and Oversight Committee meeting. In particular, the report is part of a motion asking the executive’s office to develop curriculum to train drivers as part of the for-hire licensing process. Eventually, if approved, it would affect taxi, Uber and Lyft drivers.

The curriculum would be designed to raise awareness about human trafficking, help drivers identify potential victims and survivors and let drivers direct people to services. The training would be presented online and drivers would be required to pass a test before receiving certification to drive in the county. The report was initially due in October but was pushed back until next spring.

King County Councilmember Jean Kohl-Welles said the FBI projected that human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing sector in the black market worldwide.

“We are not immune to that here,” she said.

Human trafficking can include sex slavery but also forced labor. Seattle’s position as a global air and sea port lends itself to trafficking as documented in a story in the Seattle Weekly. In 2006, 22 Chinese nationals were discovered at the Port of Seattle after being crammed into a 40-foot container from Shanghai. Before that, 18 people were found on board a freighter in 2000 and three people had died during the journey.

Washington state had 163 cases of human trafficking in 2017, bringing it to the 13th highest ranked in the nation. King County launched an effort to stop human trafficking in 2018. According to the county, it’s estimated as many as 500 youth are forced into sex work every day in the county.

The motion called for the county, the Port and city of Seattle to work together to highlight the issue. A similar push was launched in 2013 that saw signs placed on Metro buses and billboards which resulted in a 500-percent increase in calls from the state to the National Human Trafficking hotline.

Sound Transit, Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines also launched public awareness campaigns in January to encourage victims of human trafficking to seek help. Many of the people who have been forced into labor or sex work in the U.S. are homeless. Additionally, victims and survivors are disproportionately people of color while most of the people charged with trafficking are white, the county said in a press release.

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